The next time you buy a sizzling hot pizza, look carefully. For, apart from the cheese and calories, the scrumptious disc may well be loaded with a message on HIV/AIDS through cards and comics!
In a unique, out-of-the-box attempt to reach out to the youth "in their language", Breakthrough - an international NGO that works in the area of health and human rights issues - is using comics with catchy punch lines (supplied by Cards 4 You and Badmash Comics) to educate the youth on HIV/AIDS. "The issue of HIV/AIDS has moved beyond the realm of sex workers and truck drivers," elaborates Alika Khosla, Associate Director, Breakthrough. "Therefore, we are targeting the youth who are a very vulnerable group. This constituency has grown up reading comics and watching TV; so we have customized our message to address them appropriately."
For starters, the cards will be available with Pizza Hut and Dominos offerings as well as Crossword bookshops throughout the country. Later, to reach out to more youth, they will also be printed in English, Hindi, Marathi and Kannada. The cards are also being distributed in various Delhi colleges (St Stephens, Miranda House and Zakir Hussain, to begin with), and student volunteers are being provided with toolkits to spread the HIV message, and inform people about routes of transmission and condom use within marriage.
Breakthrough, set up in 1999 (with affiliate offices in India and the US), has been using popular culture to promote public awareness and dialogue about human rights and social justice. "We encourage individuals and communities to get involved in promoting social harmony and build a culture of human rights through various avenues," says its US-based Executive Director Mallika Dutt.
And these avenues, elaborates Dutt, are public education in partnership with the creative world to produce radio, music, art, television and theatre for social change; a website which is an educational and entertaining forum packed with ideas for action; forums, discussions and workshops that involve communities around the world and multimedia educational materials for schools, colleges, neighborhood groups and other relevant institutions.
Breakthrough also works on interrelated human rights issues, including women's rights, sexual and reproductive health, peace and religious harmony, and racial, ethnic and caste equity. "We believe that all adults can become human rights practitioners - in our homes, schools, colleges, workplaces and communities," says Khosla.
The NGO endorses the view that promoting women's rights requires a change in societal ideologies and belief systems. "It is then essential to communicate with both the victims and the perpetrators of violations to create an environment that can lead to sustainable improvements in the lives of people. Breakthrough's work thus draws from the voices of individuals and communities who are most affected by the issues it raises," adds Dutt. Breakthrough, in fact, began its work on the issue of human rights by placing violence against women within the realm of the mainstream - as an issue that could be discussed by both men and women.
Small wonder then that its music album 'Mann ke Manjeere', which dealt with the issue of women's rights, featured amongst the Top 10 albums for six months on MTV apart from bagging numerous awards. Subsequently, the NGO also produced the video 'Babul' from the same album, addressing domestic violence in upper and middleclass communities.As a part of its 'Faith In Peace' programme, Breakthrough has also produced 'Haman Hai Ishq', a music album released by Sony Music on communal harmony. The album features spiritual music that encourages love and harmony through the poetry of Kabir, Mirabai, Rabia and others. The music video from the album (filmed on Kabir's song 'Baagon Na Jaa') with Hindi film actors Rahul Bose and Anupam Kher featured on all Indian music channels and reached out to over a 100 million homes in South Asia, the Middle East, parts of Africa and the US in 2004.
"Over the years," says Sonali Khan, Communications Director, Breakthrough, "we have been identifying innovative and culturally relevant ways to place human rights in the public domain."
The NGO also engages young people in a dialogue - both within the classroom and outside - on building a global culture that upholds compassion, peace, equality and justice. Educational workshops are, in fact, an integral aspect of Breakthrough's work profile. "In the last six months, we have organized programs for a range of constituencies - from college students to underprivileged girls to housewives and professionals who have faced violence and abuse in their married lives," says Sunita Menon, in charge of Breakthrough's Education Outreach Programme. She says that 60 workshops were held in 2004-05, which reached out to 3,800 people.
Breakthrough has also developed a trainer manual 'Rights and Desire: A Facilitator's Manual to Healthy Sexuality', with exercises - on gender roles, sexuality, cultural stereotypes and their connections to a range of women's human rights, including social and economic rights - and an introduction to basic concepts of human rights.
A peer facilitators toolkit developed by Breakthrough in 2005 titled 'Jaano, Jaago, Jagao' is a resource for implementing HIV prevention education programs in schools, colleges, HIV/AIDS service organizations and community-based organizations working with youth. Similarly, 'Strength in Action: An Educators' Guide to Preventing Domestic Violence' has been translated into Kannada and Hindi. The toolkit will be disseminated across the states of Breakthrough's geographical focus - Maharashtra, the Hindi belt and Karnataka.
To spread its reach even further, Breakthrough has also been organizing the Tri-Continental Film Festival to establish India as a venue for an international human rights film festival. "The festival," says Khosla, "exposes a mass Indian audience to cinema dealing with issues of social justice, while simultaneously increasing public awareness through discussion forums and workshops." The festival was first held in India in 2004 and, throughout the year, outreach screenings were conducted in Guwahati, Shillong, Chandigarh, Bangalore and Pune with the aim of engaging young people in a dialogue on issues raised in the showcased documentaries. The festival in January 2006 - launched by sufi singer Rabbi Shergill - travelled from Delhi to Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata.
In 2004-05, Breakthrough developed the first phase of a two -year media campaign to reduce women's vulnerability to HIV/AIDS. Titled 'What Kind of Man Are You?', the campaign spotlights the increasing rates of HIV infection amongst
married women in India and promotes condom use within marriage. Its message - carefully customized for urban populations across various socioeconomic backgrounds - encourages dialogue, equality and sensitivity within marriage in order to address gender inequalities. "We have since reached millions through a dissemination strategy grounded by strong partnerships with movie theatres, television, radio and print media. And gauging the positive response, we will continue to do so in the coming years," sums up Khan.